My favorite Japanese movie is a cult classic. You’d assume from that opening I’m embarking on a “Binging With Babish” cinema homage, but quite the opposite. Juzo Itami’s “Tampopo” (1985) opened my eyes to why it is so hard to nail the nuance of a good bowl of ramen in the confines of the home kitchen (or a 500-word recipe). Of course I’ve tried, as I suspect many have.
The inherent paradox is that the simpler a dish seems, the harder it is to get right. Even with an interest in slow food, I am happily resigned to leaving ramen to the craftspeople, who execute the dish for less profit than their dedication deserves.
When I have done noodles at home, I have had more success with the bolder tantanmen. As I played with various nut butters, all of which were individually in my breakfast rotation, it struck me that they could be combined into a toast topping. Having enrolled loved ones as beta tasters, I am willing to out myself as the punchline of a David Chang quip about toast lovers and suggest that, when combined, many common ingredients make a conversation-worthy and uncommonly delicious topping.
This recipe might seem simple, but it’s become a staple for me at breakfast, especially if I want a spicy start to the day. To help it transition into a light lunch or dinner, simply fry ground pork or crisp bacon in sesame oil with seasoning and add it on top, perhaps even with a fried egg, and then finish with the assorted nuts and seeds.
The nut butter mix can also be made in bulk and kept refrigerated for about a week. If toast isn’t your thing, this quick addition can make a big flavor difference to the blandest of cup noodles, instead.
Prep: 5 mins.; cook: 5-10 mins.
Makes 2 slices of toast
• 1 teaspoon peanut butter (smooth or creamy)
• 1 teaspoon almond butter
• 1 teaspoon nerigoma sesame paste or tahini
• ½ teaspoon tobanjan Chinese chili bean paste
• 2 slices of your favorite bread
• Butter (optional)
• Assorted nuts (pecan, almond, cashew)
• Assorted seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin)
• Rāyu chili oil
1. Mix the peanut and almond butters, nerigoma and tobanjan pastes together in a bowl.
2. Toast the slices of bread, and butter if desired.
3. Split the nut butter paste mix between the two slices.
4. Top with nuts, seeds and chili oil, or even a bit of your favorite hot sauce.
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